A year after a Danish newspaper ran 12 cartoons depicting Muhammad that caused worldwide riots and threats in 2005, Charlie Hebdo republished them under the headline “Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists.”
The magazine came under criticism by then-President Jacques Chirac, and French Islamic groups took the publication to court, accusing it of inciting hatred. The editor at the time was acquitted, and the court ruled the cartoons were protected by freedom of expression laws and attacked not Islam but fundamentalists.
“We treat the news like journalists. Some use cameras. Some use computers. For us, it’s a paper and a pencil,” a cartoonist who went by the name Luz told The Associated Press in 2012. “A pencil is not a weapon. It’s just a means of expression.”
For all its criticism of Islamic extremism, Charlie Hebdo was an equal-opportunity offender. “Police would be shown holding the dripping heads of immigrants; there would be masturbating nuns, popes wearing condoms — anything to make a point,” the BBC reported.
The magazine came about after its predecessor Hara-Kiri was banned in 1970 for mocking the death of former President Charles de Gaulle, which occurred about the same time a fire at a nightclub killed more than 100 people. It ran an issue with the cover line “Tragic dance at Colombey [de Gaulle’s home] — one dead.” The magazine’s journalists responded to the ban by creating a new magazine: Charlie Hebdo.
“The idea is that they were fighting against extremism, all kinds of extremism, all kinds of groups,” French journalist Mathilde Boussion told Al Jazeera. “They were fighting with the pen, and they were killed for that.”